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The Very Best of Friends

by Margaret Wild

Summary

The Very Best of Friends can be used to provoke a discussion about the ethical treatment of animals.

The Very Best of Friends is about the relationship between a cat named William and a woman named Jesse. At the beginning of the story, the two live on a farm with a man named James, who is quite fond of William while Jesse is not. Then James dies, Jesse distances herself further from William and kicks him out. After some time passes, she changes her mind and begins to grow closer to William. William forgives her and the two become friends.

Read aloud video by Opa’s Corner Storytime

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

The Very Best of Friends could be used to provoke a philosophical discussion about the ethics surrounding the treatment of animals. In the book, James treats the cat William as if he is a good friend, as do many families. Humans often treat their beloved pets as if they are miniature people, yet we allow other animals to be slaughtered for food. How should we resolve the apparent inconsistency in the understanding of our relationship with animals? In children’s books, especially, animals are personified quite frequently, which suggests that they are the same as humans, having similar rights. However, others think that humans are superior to animals and can use animals for their own purposes, whether it be for companionship, food, or clothing. Even if humans are superior, do animals still deserve the same level of respect and compassion that we award other humans?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

  1. In the story, after James passes away, Jesse kicks William out of the house. Is this fair? Why?
  2. Would it be unfair if William were a person rather than a cat?
  3. What are some of the differences between humans and animals?
  4. Do these differences make humans better than animals? Do they make animals better than humans?
  5. Many families treat their pets as if they are people, and yet we also kill other animals for food. Is there a difference between the animals you eat and the animals you keep as pets? Why or why not?
  6. We sometimes refer to animals as being “happy” or “sad.” Do animals really feel emotions the same way people do? Even if they cannot feel “sad” when mistreated, should you still be kind to them? Why or why not?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Sara Rodriguez. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for The Very Best of Friends with a colored pencil drawing of two older white people . The woman is bent over as she pulls on a pair of boots while the man uses her back to balance himself as he leans down to pet a gray and white striped cat. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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